BOSTON — As pandemic-era restrictions ease across the country and mostly end in Massachusetts, Logan International Airport experienced its busiest passenger month since COVID-19 struck but remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
More than 1.74 million passengers traveled through Logan in May, according to Massachusetts Port Authority data detailed at a board meeting last week. That’s a 22% increase from April but still 55% below the same time in 2019. Logan fielded 19,407 aircraft in May, a 14% increase over April but 49% below May 2019.
For the week ending June 20, the highest number of passengers were screened — about 262,000 — since mid-April 2020, according to the quasi-public agency’s data.
“The numbers are trending in the right direction,” Massport Aviation Director Ed Freni said. “But I just want to highlight the fact that we are still significantly lower than where we were in 2019.”
Domestic airline capacity is returning faster than international traffic, Massport Administration and Finance Director John Pranckevicius said, which may slow progress toward a full recovery. According to Massport data, 62% of domestic capacity has been restored compared to only 38% of international capacity.
This all comes as Massport officials described a dramatic change in customer mix with June 2021 showing 95% of passengers were flying for leisure and only 5% for business. Comparatively, 60% of passengers flew for leisure and 40% for business in June 2019, according to the data.
Massport Board member Laura Sen said with the changing mix of travelers, “all of our economics will change.”
“Not just parking but concessions, what the airlines are going to experience to people’s desire for more promotional pricing, and so on,” Sen said during the meeting. “So I just put that on the table as a challenge we need to consider as we think about how the traveling public will be a different mix in behavior than a much heavier business traveler mix.”
Board member Warren Fields said it is wise to assume business travel is reduced but added that he is not yet convinced that it will be permanently impacted.
“It’s a little too early to be making that statement, but clearly in the near term, business travel is going to be reduced,” Fields said. “So I would just hold my judgment on it’s permanently impacted so, but that’s just a nuance.”
As Logan International Airport and other Massport properties gradually experience growth in business activity, officials said the fiscal 2022 budget gap decreased to $40 million. The agency will still need to rely on federal funding to eliminate the deficit, officials said.
Pranckevicius outlined a fiscal 2022 operating budget that spends about $725 million with expected revenue at $685 million. Massport dealt with a roughly $113 million deficit in its fiscal 2021 budget, according to Pranckevicius’ presentation.
“So as we started looking at what does this year ahead look for us, clearly, business activity is improving. We were able to alleviate some of the disruption, decision-making that we’ve needed to make over the past 12-14 months and start looking at other items and strategic priorities to create meaningful change,” Pranckevicius said. “… With the increase in business activity, our margins are improving.”
Pranckevicius said during fiscal 2020, 42 million passengers, 164,000 containers, and 400,000 cruise passengers generated over $900 million in revenue. In the fiscal 2021 budget, Pranckevicius said Massport saw a “significant decline in business activity” that resulted in a $300 million revenue loss.
“As we look ahead into 2022, with the increase in activity, we stand to see and project a passenger level of 18.5 million … about 140,000 containers,” he said. “The cruise business is going to take a little bit more time to be able to recover and is not contributing as heavily to our financial plan.”
Airlines are also rescheduling their flights to popular destinations, Freni said, with Southwest Airlines adding Kansas City service out of Logan starting in early November and Spirit Airlines adding Miami service starting in mid-November.
“And even more important than that, we’ve seen some opening up of some key markets in the international with additional service but we’re waiting for the UK and the EU to open up so we can start to see more passengers traveling in that direction,” Freni said.
American Airlines, however, experienced staffing “struggles” in the past few weeks, Freni said, adding that the Fort Worth-based company is not the only airline facing issues. He said Delta, Southwest, and United have also encountered issues related to staffing.
But some are starting to bring back crews and hire new pilots, Freni said. American Airlines hired 100 people last month and JetBlue hired 100 people over the last couple of weeks, the aviation director told the board.
“Until they get their staffing up it will impact schedules. In fact, American announced that they are going to reduce their schedule in July, overall their schedule, about 1% — minimal impact here at Logan, but it is a trend that’s going on now,” Freni said.